Medical malpractice at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston

For many years, we’ve recommended that patients conduct some research before deciding on a hospital. The Quality Check website operated by accrediting organization The Joint Commission is a good place to start.

Of course, in emergency situations it’s often impossible to make a hospital choice, but for elective procedures it’s certainly an option. For people in the Houston area, the world’s largest medical center, the Texas Medical Center is nearby. For some conditions, treatments, and surgeries, hospitals in the Texas Medical Center may be the best choice. Yet, studies have shown that most people make a hospital decision based on one factor—convenience, specifically opting for the closest hospital to their home.

The sad truth, though, is that medical malpractice can happen even at hospitals with good reputations.

Take Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH), for example. TCH enjoys a good reputation in the Houston area and, in fact, nationwide. Just today, the Texas Medical Center announced that the Texas Children’s Hospital Department of Surgery recently received confirmation that for the third year in a row that it is the number one pediatric transplant center in the United States. TCH’s current national rankings are number one in heart, lung, and overall transplants; number two in liver transplants; and number six in kidney transplants.

Despite solid reputations and a commitment to providing quality patient care, though, poor planning and human errors sometimes occur even at institutions like Texas Children’s Hospital. Painter Law Firm is currently representing a family in a case involving TCH where we believe that’s exactly what happened.

TCH is a hospital that seems to be constantly growing. New buildings and clinics are popping up all over the Houston area, including the main Texas Medical Center campus.

For our clients, though, the rapid expansion didn’t work out well. Their child was born with a congenital heart condition that required several surgical procedures. Over the infant’s first year of life, when these procedures occurred he was transferred from the operating room to a cardiovascular intensive care unit. Because of his pre-existing conditions, he had a difficult airway and needed to be carefully managed as he was brought out of anesthesia and extubated (the breathing tube was removed).

On the date relevant to the medical malpractice lawsuit, Texas Children’s Hospital was in the middle of opening a new building. As result of the move and patient census, there wasn’t space in the cardiovascular intensive care unit. Instead of waiting to perform the elective (non-emergency) surgical procedure, the hospital and surgeons from Baylor College of Medicine decided to push ahead.

The surgery itself went well. Based on the new building move and patient occupancy, though, the infant was transferred to a bed in the regular intensive care unit, rather than the specialized cardiovascular intensive unit.

Once there, the resident physicians (still in their clinical training) seemed in a rush to remove the breathing tube from their young patient. This is a procedure called extubation. The parents remarked that their baby wasn’t awake and alert, which had always been an important factor before he was extubated in the cardiovascular intensive care unit. The nurses and resident physicians decided to push forward, though.

Immediately after extubation, the infant began struggling to breathe. What happened next was shocking, particularly for a fabled institution like Texas Children’s Hospital. The parents watched as the intensive care unit nurses and respiratory therapists fumbled around looking for emergency respiratory equipment.

A correct-sized oxygen mask wasn’t immediately available. A staff member cupped hands around the mask to try to achieve a seal so vital oxygen wouldn’t escape. Then appropriate tubing for the flow of oxygen wasn’t available either. A respiratory therapist held two pieces of tubing together, hoping that oxygen would flow through his hands.

What unfolded was a whopping 45-minute delay during which the infant patient’s oxygen saturation plummeted to the 30s (90+ is normal) before he was finally re-intubated. Diagnostic radiology imaging showed that the the time without adequate oxygen led to a permanent hypoxic-ischemic brain injury.

As a former hospital administrator, I find the facts of this case very concerning. There’s an alliterative saying that comes to mind, “proper planning prevents poor performance.” In my view, what happened here represents a total leadership failure, with administrators, physicians, nurses, and respiratory therapists bearing responsibility.

Health care providers have an obligation to accept only those patients whom they can safely treat. If a facility or unit is not ready to receive a particular patient, then either it shouldn’t be opened or the patient’s treatment should be rescheduled.

When medical negligence occurs even at good hospitals like Texas Children’s Hospital, the top-rated experienced medical malpractice team at Painter Law Firm isn’t afraid to tackle the case.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.